Casino (1995)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods

Martin Scorcese is famous for his character-driven movies, movies that dig deep into human souls, exploring the obvious and the hidden in them. "Casino" is no different and gives us a deep and frighteningly realistic look into the characters’ psyches and their behavior. Based on real events, it also gives us an authentic look behind the scenes of the Las Vegas of 1973, where Mafia crime syndicates run casinos and problems are solved in six-foot-deep holes in the Nevada desert.

Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is a professional gambler who can calculate the odds for every bet. He’s been working on betting systems for years, constantly perfecting his skills to beat the odds. When a handful of Mafia bosses in the Midwest learn about Ace’s skills, they decide to make him the manager of the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. In no time, Ace multiplies the casino’s profits and with his help, the bosses manage to make the casino’s operations look honest and legal, while in fact using it to make black money for their criminal organizations. Ace is the perfect choice to head a casino, since his own gambling skills keep Ace ahead of would-be cheaters. He sniffs them out and deals with them in an appropriate Mafia fashion.

One day he meets Ginger (Sharon Stone), a professional cheat. She’s attracted to Ace’s power and his endless flow of money, and she agrees to marry him – even though she admits that she doesn’t love him. Ace is hopeful, however, that he’ll be able to change her feelings for him. Completely immersed in running the Tangiers, he neglects Ginger while it slowly dawns on her that she’s sitting inside a golden cage. In despair, she seeks comfort in alcohol and drugs, turning away from Ace and back into the arms of her previous lover, the lowly pimp Lester (James Woods). After a time, the bosses send Ace’s longtime friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) to Las Vegas to keep an eye on Ace. Nicky has different plans and soon develops a greed for power. His openly aggressive intrigues add to his reputation as a man of violence, and soon enough, Nicky is banned from every casino in town. He’s also attracting the FBI’s interest and at this point, the life-long friendship between Ace and Nicky changes. The irascible Nicky soon spins completely out of control, triggering the fall of the Mafia empire in Las Vegas.

While "Casino" revolves around the Mafia’s doings in Las Vegas, it is not exactly a movie about the Mafia per se. It is a story about people living and working in Las Vegas during an era when the Mafia ran the place. Some of them are directly involved with the Mafia, while others are merely affected. The movie provides a lot of information without actually judging or reflecting on it as people’s lives progress. Showing it with off-screen commentaries helps us understand what the real life of those people looked like in their own fast-paced world, where any step can be lethal, giving the movie an almost documentary authenticity and feel.

Scorcese looks into every little nook of the characters’ behaviors, making the viewer watch and partake in their mistakes. It displays very clearly how power changes people and leads them to error, losing sight of the overall picture, eventually destroying it. The powerhouse performances of all the actors allow Scorcese to tell this story as if it were a real thing. All the characters are portrayed in a convincing and realistic manner, never giving you the feeling that you are watching a movie they let you participate in their lives. This ubiquitous strength elevates "Casino" above any other drama tackling comparable issues.

"Casino" also shows us the drug that is Las Vegas, the city that attracts millions of people, hopeful to make riches and yet leaving billions of dollars behind every year, the city where everything is bigger and exaggerated, where a small provincial crook like Nicky can become a most dangerous force by sheer will.

"Casino’s" production design is breath-taking. Capturing much of the unique and original Las Vegas atmosphere, it also manages to faithfully reproduce its early 70ies flair. Every little detail perfectly matches the picture, even the masses of gamblers trying their luck in the background during the film’s shoot in the original "Riviera" casino and when you hear the jackpot bells of the slot-machines in the distance, you are sure someone actually won. Robert Richardson’s dramatic cinematography gives this movie an authentic look, through its lush light settings, its stylized looks, the colorful photography, and the bustling ambience of Las Vegas casinos. The "Casino" DVD comes as a <$RSDL,RSDL> disc from Universal Home Video, which allows you to watch this 179-minute-long drama without interruption. And once again, this disc proves that Universal is capable of producing some of the best looking releases; "Casino"’s image is superb in its sharpness and color fidelity and exhibits an extreme level of detail. The movie is presented in its original <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and comes as an <$16x9,anamorphic> enhanced disc.

"Casino" also features a beautiful <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that puts you right in the midst of the Tangiers casino. Though it does does not use surrounds excessively, it does a good job of imaging the casino atmosphere. The soundtrack is slightly thin, and some of the rock tunes used in the music score tend to distract from the other audio elements, making it hard to concentrate on the more important dialogues at times – but it is nevertheless are very good audio transfer.

This disc, once again, shows how committed Universal is to the DVD platform. "Casino" is an example of how to make the best of DVD. It is a sophisticated chronicle of the fall of a mob ruled era of Las Vegas and it is also a meticulously-treated disc that makes it a pleasure to witness. Those looking for evidence of DVD quality must own "Casino".